Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Mardi Gras Bread Pudding: Version #452
Well, not really 452, but close. Bread pudding is probably our favorite dessert. Over the years, Brilliant Daughter and I have experimented with the basic recipe coming up with versions featuring berries, orange-almond, maple-pecan, chocolate, and our favorite: chai-spiced bread pudding. There are others, but I won't begin to bore you. Suffice it to say, we eat this for dessert, for breakfast, for snack, for no reason at all.
Bread pudding is a very easy thing to make. Pop it in the oven when you sit down to dinner and you have a nice warm dessert to finish off the day. Ingredients are basic, and because it lends itself to creativity (see above paragraph), you can use pretty much anything you have in the pantry. Dried or fresh fruit, nuts of any kind, chocolate, coconut, and an array of spices. You can buy day-old bread from your local bakery, buy a fresh loaf a day or two ahead, or in a pinch, you can buy fresh bread, cut it into pieces and lay it out on a cookie sheet to dry up a bit. I like to use challah, but we have used sourdough, sweet French, brioche bread, and a few others. You really need to buy whole loaves, not the pre-sliced Wonder bread variety.
For our Mardi Gras dinner, I wanted bread pudding. Initially I thought about making the traditional version, but wanted something a bit lighter to end the meal. I opted for Pear-Toasted Almond Bread pudding, with pear ice cream, topped with caramel sauce.
I have been sitting on a pear ice cream recipe for some time, just waiting for the right time. In all fairness, something went a bit awry. I'm not sure if it was because my ice cream bowl had not been in the freezer long enough or if I did not cook the egg mixture until it was the correct thickness, but the ice cream had more ice crystals in it than I would have liked and took much longer to freeze than normal. The flavor, however, was tremendous—strong and smooth, but light. A very good complement to the bread pudding.
Brilliant Daughter came over to help with the final dinner preparations and to make the bread pudding. Without fail, this is the one dish where the mother-daughter collaboration always hits a home run. This time she decided to brown the butter rather than just melting it, adding a slightly nuttier taste to the pudding. You can omit this step, and just use melted butter, but going the extra distance works well. I purchased toasted sliced almonds from Trader Joe's, but you can certainly toast your own. You could also chop up whole almonds and toast them, as well. The bit of crunch of the almonds, along with the softness of the pears works well with the texture of the bread pudding.
To top the bread pudding and ice cream, I opted for a caramel sauce. Pulling out one of my favorite dessert cookbooks, Emily Luchetti's A Passion for Desserts, I found the perfect caramel sauce. This chef (of Stars and Farallon restaurants) and author captured my heart when she inscribed my copy with the words "Eat dessert first." My kinda gal. Needless to say, the caramel sauce, while basic, is delicious. I actually tasted it by the spoonful, repeatedly, to make sure it was alright ; ) It made the perfect finishing touch for the dessert. Our culinary school guest plated the desserts so I could catch a few photographs, and we served a gravy boat of extra sauce for those in need (namely: me).
Pear Ice Cream
2 ½ cups pear nectar (100% juice only)
6 large egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
Bring pear juice to a simmer in a small saucepan. Meanwhile, heat yolks and sugar in a large metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, whisking constantly until thickened. Slowly whisk in pear juice. Quick-chill by setting bowl in an ice bath and stirring occasionally until cold. Whisk in cream. Freeze in ice cream maker, then transfer to air-tight container and put in freezer to harden.
Pear-Almond Bread Pudding
1 pound loaf of bread, cut into small cubes
3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups white sugar
10 tablespoons butter, browned
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 pears, peeled, cored and diced
¾ cup toasted sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9x13 pan*.Mix the browned butter with the sugar. Add in the eggs, milk and vanilla and stir well. Add the bread cubes, pears and almonds and stir with large spoon (or use your hands). Make sure the bread is moistened well. Pour into greased pan and bake for 75 minutes.
*The pudding can be cooked in a 9x13 pan, two square or two round pans, two loaf pans, or individual ramekins. I chose to do 6 individual ramekins and 1 oval pan. The ramekins cooked in 15 minutes, the larger pan in 70. A full 9x12 will take 75+ minutes.
1 ½ cups white sugar
½ cup water
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
In medium saucepan, stir together the sugar and water and cook over medium heat until sugar has dissolved. Brush the insides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to eliminate any sugar sticking to the sides. Increase heat to high and cook, without stirring, until the sugar is amber colored – about 8-10 minutes. Wearing oven mitts, slowly add ¼ cup of cream. Be careful, as the caramel with sputter as the cream is added. Using a wooden spoon or heat-resistant spatula, stir cream into sugar. Slowly add remaining cream. Stir until combined. Cool 5 minutes and then whisk in the butter. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate until use Can be reheated in a double boiler or microwave.